US Offer to Iran of Nuclear Talks Widely Misunderstood
By Steve Schippert
Reading media reaction, whether as reportage or editorial, to yesterday’s statement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the United States is open to direct talks with Iran on the nuclear crisis is largely disappointing. Nearly every report or editorial places an inappropriate emphasis upon the offer to Iran of direct talks without understanding – or at least properly explaining to news consumers – the profound significance of the prerequisite condition of the cessation of all enrichment activities.
The enrichment cessation demand – decidedly not a policy shift, reversal or concession – is mentioned by each, but readily discarded and supplanted by lengthy conversation and coverage of what direct talks with Iran may mean. This misplaced focus on ends rather than means puts the proverbial cart clearly and ill-advisedly before the horse.
Let us be clear: The enrichment cessation demand has never been nor will it become a negotiable point for the Bush Administration.
Let us also be clear: Tehran has made it unmistakable that enrichment is their right and that enrichment has never been nor will it become a negotiable point.
The cessation demand has each time in the past been rejected out of hand by the Iranian regime, whether made by the US, the EU-3 or Russia. The question is not whether the US will hold direct talks with Iran. The question is more appropriately: Will Iran’s enrichment cessation stance change in pursuit of direct one-on-one talks with the US?
That one of Iran’s reactions yesterday was to dismiss the American offer as “propaganda” certainly buttresses this stalwart position by the mullah regime.
If that still leaves some in doubt, within the context of Iran’s continued open defiance of IAEA and UN Security Council cessation demands, consider Iran's simultaneous announcement yesterday of open international bidding for the construction of two new nuclear reactors, expected to commence within two months. The Iranian position on nuclear enrichment could hardly be clearer.
If the American position on complete Iranian enrichment cessation is equally clear and remains equally consistent – and there is absolutely no indication beyond fearful speculation that this will change – then all of the ‘talk about talks’ clearly revolves around a moot point. Getting there via Iranian enrichment abandonment appears to remain as impossible today as it was last week, last month or last year.
With that clearly in mind, consider then the various quotes from both reportage and editorial reaction focusing on the ends without due consideration of the means.
New York Times - Bush's Realization on Iran: No Good Choice Left Except Talks: After 27 years in which the United States has refused substantive talks with Iran, President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him — by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers — that he no longer had a choice.
The Boston Globe: Rice's choice for Iran: What Rice did not say is that the course reversal she announced yesterday also has the potential to provide the administration with a crucial policy option it had been denying itself. Until now, President Bush has confined himself to a choice between US backing for the fruitless talks that the EU3 -- France, Germany, and Britain -- has been conducting with Iran and a military option that no rational policy maker would wish to exercise.
BBC: Last diplomatic throw of dice? Two scenarios are opening up. There is a benign one and a malign one. In the benign one, the doves, led by the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have won the argument in Washington. This, it is hoped, will lead to direct talks with Iran, which will agree on a package under which to end its enrichment of uranium. In exchange, it will receive a bag of goodies that will include help with civil nuclear power and trade concessions.
Detroit Free Press: U.S.: If Iran holds off, we'll talk The Bush administration reversed its policy, offering to join European talks with Iran about limiting its nuclear program -- if Iran "verifiably suspends" the enrichment of uranium, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.
OpinionJournal: Condi's Iran Gambit - Ahmadinejad gets the direct talks he wanted.: When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly released a long, insulting letter seeking direct talks with the U.S. last month, President Bush dismissed it as unworthy of reply. But yesterday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered the real U.S. answer: Yes. In a surprising policy reversal, Ms. Rice offered to negotiate directly with Iran's mullahs if they first suspend all uranium enrichment and cooperate with United Nations arms inspectors.
Of the above, only The Detroit Free Press immediately emphasizes the fact that Iran has consistently refused enrichment cessation demands. This is absolutely critical to understanding the true intent of the offer, which is to expose Iran’s true intentions of indigenous nuclear weapons capability and not nuclear power. This exposure is being pursued systematically, step by step.
What is on display is a concerted final stretch effort to secure a significant Chapter VII resolution with the support of Russia and China, complete with efforts to assure Iran nuclear power it says it desires (and other sweeteners) and real consequences should Iran remain defiant. Vital Perspective presents this aspect well.
The last two major steps in exposing real Iranian interests - which most believe are not in nuclear power but nuclear weapons - are now culminating. First, in Europe’s recent offer of nuclear power plant construction, nuclear fuel supplies and painfully favorable non-nuclear trade incentives, satisfying Iran's stated nuclear power desires. And finally, in the US offer of direct participation in international multi-party talks with Iran, satisfying the underlying Iranian desire for recognition and potentially providing the ability to drive a wedge between the American and European strategic unity on the Iranian nuclear crisis.
But so long as both steps contain the enrichment abandonment pre-condition for Iran, neither attempt is likely to see Iranian participation, decisively demonstrating Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
The Opinion Journal editorial surprisingly dismisses this nearly altogether as seemingly far too unlikely. While it is not unreasonable to fear the worst from Foggy Bottom, perhaps Ms. Rice deserves more credit for fortitude than given. Consider the following line that immediately followed the above-quoted Opinion Journal text.
The Secretary of State seems to have convinced Mr. Bush--over the doubts of Vice President Cheney and others--that this was the only way to prevent the U.S. from being isolated as our European allies ran for cover and Russia resisted any U.N. sanctions. How this new U.S. concession will impress the mullahs to give in is now Ms. Rice's burden to demonstrate. Good luck. [Emphasis added]
Good luck indeed…if “impress[ing] the mullahs to give in” is what defines Condi's Iran Gambit.
But, couched in the steadfast pre-condition that it is (and should be), Condi's True Iran Gambit is not the risk of concessions and thus direct talks with Iran. Condi's True Iran Gambit is rather the risk of Iran actually publicly accepting such an offer as is, committing the US to talks (and more delays) with undetermined parts of their clandestine nuclear program as of yet unknown and therefore knowingly unverifiable. Regardless of potential words offered by the current Iranian regime, their nuclear intent can hardly be clearer than that already demonstrated, even within the past three years, much less the past two decades.
America backing itself into a diplomatic corner by a surprise public acceptance (and accompanying clandestine defiance as previously demonstrated) from Iran is the real danger of the ‘gambit’. If Iran calls the American bluff, there will be definite trouble at Foggy Bottom – and much jubilation at Turtle bay.
Note with significance that Iran, while dismissing it as ‘propaganda’, has yet to officially reject it. Surely they are pondering precisely the same as these words are written.
Until such time, much of the current worry (or celebration, depending on perspective) will likely prove for naught so long as the Bush Administration maintains its consistent and proper demand of complete enrichment cessation. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, "We will not give up our nation's natural right, we will not hold talks over it. But we are ready to hold talks over mutual concerns."
For those concerned over perceived potential American concessions to the world’s primary state sponsor of terrorism, we are no closer to appeasement than last week, last month or last year. For those pleased by the perceived ‘major policy reversal’ by the Bush Administration, we are no closer to a diplomatic solution, either. So long as Iran maintains the ‘No enrichment, no dice’ stance opposite the American and European (let alone the also ignored IAEA and UN Security Council) ‘No enrichment, period’ position, nothing has changed.
What is nearer being achieved, for those still somehow unconvinced, is the outright removal of any and all perceived Iranian ambiguity and doubt about its nuclear weapons quest.